Photo by Heather Middleton
By Joel Hall
Despite rising energy costs, Southern Regional Medical Center Director of Plant Operations and Engineering Joe Baker has been able to keep the hospital's operating costs below budget for the past five years, according to hospital officials.
This month, the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) of the American Hospital Association recognized Baker with its Emerging Regional Leader Award, for his dedication to energy efficiency.
Baker was recognized by the organization on July 12, during its annual conference in Tampa, Fla. Ten awards are given annually throughout the United States and the Caribbean -- one for each of ASHE's administrative regions -- to future leaders in the fields of health-care engineering and facility management.
Baker was honored with the Region 4 award, which includes hospitals in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and the Caribbean.
"It is an honor to recognize Joe for his commitment to the field with this award," said ASHE President Terry Martin, in a written statement. "He exemplifies outstanding leadership qualities and shows a true commitment to our profession."
Baker, a Southern Regional employee since 1998, is responsible for overseeing the hospital's energy plant operations, safety and security, clinical equipment services, parking, grounds maintenance, and all construction activities.
He said that in 2005, energy deregulation, coupled with the effects of Hurricane Katrina, created a need for the hospital to use its resources more wisely.
"[With energy deregulation] there is nothing that will stop them from charging whatever the market allows," Baker said. "When Katrina came in, the price of gas went up and the price of natural gas went up, because Georgia Power uses a lot of natural gas to produce energy. We have installed some automatic control systems on the AC (air conditioning) units, which allows us to use the equipment much more efficiently. The other thing we have done is training our staff to do a higher degree of technical work."
In the past few years, according to Baker, the hospital has outfitted most of its lights with electronic ballasts to limit the amount of energy flowing through an electric circuit. He said the hospital has also replaced its boiler, air conditioning, and steam equipment with higher-efficiency models.
In addition, the hospital has saved nearly $1.5 million over the past five years by training its maintenance mechanics to do more in-house repairs. By sending in-house staff to receive special training in different repair disciplines, the hospital has cut out much of the costs associated with paying outside contractors.
"Normally, they [the hospital] would call somebody in and supervise them doing the work," Baker said. "We've actually sent them [Southern Regional employees] to different schools ... so they are able to do a lot more detailed work [and] get further into the components of the systems. That has amounted to a tremendous amount of savings. We save $100,000 a year on just bed repairs alone."
Baker said it cost $4.5 million to power and maintain the hospital in 2005, and that every year since then, the hospital has stayed below that figure.
Jim Crissey, vice president of facilities and support services at Southern Regional, said Baker's award is well-deserved. "This is a big deal, because he [Baker] is being recognized by his peers and the national organization for dedication and commitment to excellence in facility management," Crissey said. "He is essentially responsible for maintaining a safe and healthy environment for the delivery of quality health care at Southern Regional.
"Under Joe's leadership, we've reduced operational costs in plant operations every year since 2005, while continuing to maintain a safe environment, compliant with all hospital codes and standards," said Crissey. "From an employee perspective, I think he exemplifies the high quality of employees we have at Southern Regional."